This afternoon the Department of Work and Pensions announces a significant change on the new Personal Independent Payments following significant Lib Dem pressure. Celia Thomas, the Lib Dem peer who has campaigned tirelessly on the issue, explains why it’s a major win.
Getting the rules governing Personal Independence Payments right is vital. The new benefit, which will begin to replace Disability Living Allowance later this year, will have a huge effect on disabled people up and down the country.
I’m broadly in favour of the change to PIP, which seeks to clarify the eligibility of disabled people to this benefit, the purpose of which is to help enable disabled people to live as independently as possible. But, when the Regulations were published last month, a serious flaw was revealed.
This was the Government’s attempt to clarify the ‘Moving Around’ criteria. All the drafts which had been published before the final version of the Regulations came out, talked about a person being able to walk, aided or unaided, up to 50 metres. Many people criticised this as it left a lot of people who could only walk a very short distance unclear as to whether they would receive the enhanced rate of the benefit – the gateway to, for example, an entitlement to a Motability car.
The final draft made changes aimed at solving this problem by guaranteeing that those who cannot walk more than 20 metres will get the higher rate. Those who can walk between 20 and 50 metres will qualify for either the enhanced or standard rate of the benefit, depending on if they are able to walk this distance safely, reliably, repeatedly and in a timely manner, i.e. not too slowly.
However, the Government intended to hide away this test away in the guidance given to the people who carry out the assessment, wrapping up “repeatedly, reliably, safely and in a timely manner” in the one word “reliably”. I believed that this was too important to be left just in guidance and should appear in the assessment itself.
Immediately I tabled a Motion to try to put all these vital words into the Regulations which would mean that they would become part of the law. The Lib Dem DWP team in both Houses went to work (Stephen Lloyd, Greg Mulholland and Mike German) and we lobbied our DWP Minister Steve Webb to take up the battle with his colleagues. Steve managed to persuade his colleagues that these words must be part of the Regulations themselves, and today we have heard that this has now been agreed.
This is a tremendous victory, which will mean that disabled people need not fear that the bar to receiving the enhanced mobility rate is too high. The Government has made it clear that, for example, if someone can walk 20 metres one day, but not necessarily the next, then they will be deemed not to be able to do so repeatedly.
By putting these words into amending Regulations, we are ensuring that support will be given to those who need it most. This adds to our other victories on PIP, including halving the waiting time from six months to three, and ensuring that the mobility component remains for those living in residential care.
These changes wouldn’t be happening without the Lib Dems in Government and shows just what we can do to protect some of the most vulnerable.
* Celia Thomas is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords.